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Breaking Down Barriers to Educating Girls

UW India uses clean sanitation facilities to keep girls in school, creating healthier communities.

World Toilet Day may seem like the opening line to a joke, but for young girls like Joyita Das in Kolkata, India, it is a reminder of a serious issue that used to affect her education.

A few years ago, her school had only one source of water, two urinals, and one toilet for all 350 students. For adolescent girls, this created many embarrassing situations. Joyita and her friends stayed home from school on days they were menstruating, and some even dropped out.

In response, United Way Kolkata and local partners developed a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program aimed at keeping young girls in school and improving overall community health. United Way educated students on healthy hygiene, renovated and expanded the school’s bathrooms, and offered free menstrual products.  Today, girls don’t miss school when they have their periods, nor do they suffer from preventable urinary tract infections.

In Joyita’s own words, “Thank you to the health educator[s] for guiding us and school management for providing us with [a] clean washroom and sanitary napkins free of cost.”

What seems like a basic necessity in the 21st century is still unavailable in many developing nations. Most people living in developed countries have access to at least one bathroom, coupled with running water and adequate sanitation systems. Despite this, USAID estimates that more than 4.4 billion people lack access to proper sanitation. It’s also unimaginable that each day more than 2,200 children under the age of five die from preventable diarrhea. According to the CDC, inadequate access to hygiene facilities is the number one cause of disease and death worldwide (6.3%) and causes outbreaks of potentially preventable diseases like malaria, dysentery and diarrhea.

Many of United Way’s partners, like Kimberly-Clark, are working hard to tackle these problems. The company launched its Toilets Change Lives program in 2014 in the United Kingdom and has expanded to include more than 15 countries around the world. The program is delivered in partnership with UNICEF, WaterAid and Water for People, and provides funding and expertise to build, repair and maintain toilet infrastructure, along with hygiene education and behavior change programming. So far, it’s impacted and changed the lives of 500,000 people.

So, on World Toilet Day this Sunday, take a moment to be thankful for your toilet, your access to clean water, and the availability of hygiene products designed to meet your needs. I’ll be thinking of Joyita and the thousands of girls like her who are getting the educating they deserve without obstacles standing in their way.

For more information, visit United Way India – Kolkata.